By Amy Geiszler-Jones
With Midwest Battle Buddies, founder Chip Neumann combines his love of man’s best friend and his deep gratitude for those willing to serve our country.
Two years ago, Neumann started the nonprofit that provides service dogs and training to military veterans living with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma and other service-related conditions. While it costs about $30,000 to train a service dog, the only cost the veteran pays is the $20 application fee.
“I just feel veterans have given so much and they deserve this service,” said Neumann. “It’s my way to serve them.” While Neumann never served in the military, his dad and uncle did.
With shelter and rescue dogs, dogs donated by breeders and occasionally a dog already owned by the veteran, Midwest Battle Buddies provides extensive training that meets the standards of Assistance Dogs International. One veteran suggested lead trainer Tammy Hazlett is as good as Cesar Milan, the well-known “dog whisperer.”
“We try to train for every situation so these dogs are practically bulletproof when they graduate,” said Neumann, explaining they go to malls and other places to conduct training among crowds, be in a dining situation and more.
For both veterans and Neumann, the results are making a significant impact.
Studies show that for veterans with PTSD, service dogs can have both behavioral and psychological benefits. For some veterans, the dogs mean freedom because they are no longer housebound by the fear and anxiety crowds can bring. The unconditional love and bond with the dog help keep depression and even suicidal thoughts at bay.
Because the Veterans Administration doesn’t recognize service dogs as a treatment option, veterans who can benefit either have to pay for a dog and training themselves or rely on organizations like Midwest Battle Buddies.
“This has really opened my eyes about what is going on among veterans,” said Neumann. “Many aren’t getting the help they need.”
So Neumann – who funds this endeavor with donations and his pension from a nearly 40-year career as a printer – has now become much more than a trainer. He’s become an advocate, visiting with policymakers, helping the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center develop a service dog behavior policy for its facility and making connections with similar training groups across the country.
To find out more about Midwest Battle Buddies or to donate, visit midwestbattlebuddies.org.
The 2019 Everyday Heroes Award is sponsored by Envision